Genesis 18-20
(Sodom and Gomorrah)
January 5th


Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

The two men said to Lot, “If you have anyone else here — sons, daughters, sons-in-law, or any other relatives living in the city — get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The LORD has heard the terrible accusations against these people and has sent us to destroy Sodom."

- Genesis 19:12-13 (GNB)

Summary of Chapters

In the first 17 chapters of Genesis we had read about the creation of the universe, the original sin of man and expulsion from Eden, followed by the growth of man on earth and a great flood to wipe out the wicked people on earth. But God selected Noah and his family to be survivors. We learned that Abraham, who would become the patriarch of Israel, was a descendant of Shem, one of the sons of Noah. The story of Abraham began in chapter 11 of Genesis, which is assumed to have taken place in the 19th century B.C. Abraham had left his homeland as directed by God, became a local hero for rescuing his nephew and others, and had settled down in Canaan, which was the land intended for him by God.

Today's chapters reveal the strength of the relationship between Abraham and God but also expose the human fallibility of Abraham and others. The intimacy of Abraham’s relation with God is demonstrated in several conversations between them that are recorded in chapter 18. The first conversation occurs after Abraham welcomed three travelers into his camp, not realizing at first that they were God and two messengers.

    "(Abraham said,) Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest under the tree. Now that you have come to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way.” “Very well,” they replied, “do as you have said.”

    - Genesis 18:4-5 (NAB)

Abraham and Sara prepared yogurt, bread, and meat and served their guests with great hospitality. Abraham eventually realized that one of the visitors was God, who reiterated his promise of offspring to Abraham, but this time he defined a specific time. When Abraham’s wife Sarah overheard the discussion she laughed (and then she naively tried to deny to the LORD that she laughed). God subsequently reminded Sarah of his sovereignty:

    Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.

    - Genesis 18:14 (KJV)

The next dialog between God and Abraham concerned the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were located not far from Abraham's camp. God was prepared to destroy all of the people and land in that area because of the people's wickedness, but Abraham successfully negotiated a compromise to take place if any righteous people could be found. As a result, his nephew Lot was able to escape with his wife and daughters. Tragically, his wife disobeyed the LORD’s command by looking back at Sodom and she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot and his family moved to a remote area where the situation took another bad turn. The daughters were without husbands because their fiancés did not heed the warning to leave, so they got their father drunk and lay with him so they could have children. Their sons, Moab and Ben-Ammi became the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites that are often mentioned in the Old Testament.

Some of Abraham’s weaknesses are revealed in chapter 20 when he follows his previous modus operandi by telling King Abimelek (spelled Abimelech in some translations), that Sarah was his sister so that the king would not kill him to get his wife. Abimilek was the king of the area in which Abraham was living at this time, so believed he had the right to take Sarah into his possession. However, God intervened by preventing him from touching Sarah and then resolved the situation by speaking to the king in a dream so that Abimelek would not sin. As a result, Abimelek sets Sarah free and she was reconciled with Abraham.

Abraham and Sarah had still not conceived the long-promised son.

Reflection and Application

In one small group of chapters we find some of the most encouraging passages in the Bible and some of the most disturbing ones.

God loves Abraham so much that he promised to deliver a child to him and his wife despite their advanced age and despite their response of laughter to God’s promise. God respected Abraham so much that he changed his own will – allowing a small group of people to escape from Sodom. Moreover, God loves the world so much that he promised in Genesis 18:18 that Abraham will be a mighty nation and that all the nations will be blessed in him. We are reminded of this broad-based promise in Paul's letter to the wayward Galatians:

    And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

    - Galatians 3:8 (NRSV)

Paul then reminds his audience that it is through faith that Abraham was blessed and we also are blessed by faith, not justified by the law. God loved the world so much that he sent his son as a sacrifice to redeem us. In today's reading of Genesis we also see that God demonstrated his love for Abraham and others when he stepped into the dream of another man to resolve the thorny situation that Abraham had created by misleading King Abimelek into believing that Sarah was his sister (which may have been a re-telling of the same story from Genesis 12:10-20 or could have been a second and similar event).

Yet the same God, the one true God, was so angry at Sodom and Gomorrah that he destroyed them with a rain of burning sulfur - a punishing blow that may have been the equivalent of the most devastating 20th century military airborne attacks. What had they done to deserve that punishment? Apparently, a wide range of transgressions. We will see mentions of these forlorn cities by several of the prophets. For instance, when Ezekiel addressed the city of Jerusalem with God's Message, he elaborated on their outrageous violations and declares them to be worse than the ancient people of Sodom:

    "Your older sister is Samaria. She lived to the north of you with her daughters. Your younger sister is Sodom, who lived to the south of you with her daughters. Haven’t you lived just like they did? Haven’t you engaged in outrageous obscenities just like they did? In fact, it didn’t take you long to catch up and pass them! As sure as I am the living God!—Decree of God, the Master—your sister Sodom and her daughters never even came close to what you and your daughters have done.

    “‘The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury—proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them."

    - Ezekiel 9-16-50 (MSG)

God permitted a few to escape from Sodom, but allowed no wiggle room on his command to not look back. Instead, in what seemed like a cruel gesture he turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt and then allowed the subsequent events in Lot's family that were disturbing for an entirely different reason.

How can all of these actions emanate from one God? A God who shows overwhelming love and patience in some cases and nearly unrelenting punishment in others – just a few miles away. The book of Genesis tells us this is the one God, who brings mercy to the faithful and justice to the world. These opposing attributes may give us good reason to fear the LORD and demonstrate our acceptance of his love by going to him for mercy and seeking to serve him.

We can accept God's love and seek to converse with him. Can we negotiate with God the way Abraham did? When we petition God to heal a friend or family member we do the same thing. We don’t know if God will intervene the way we want, as he did with Abraham, but if we pray continuously than we are likely to witness case studies of his intervention.

It’s important to recognize that Abraham came to God in extreme humility, particularly when he had already won a concession and wanted to ask God for even greater leniency:

    Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

    “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

    Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

    He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

    - Genesis 18:27-29 (NIV)

Abraham demonstrated extreme boldness in asking God to change his position, and then continued to negotiate him down to agreeing to spare the city for the sake of ten people. However, it was only after acknowledging his humble position did Abraham ask if perhaps God would consider his request. One way that we can assume a position of humility when we pray is to first express adoration of our Creator, then confess our sins, then thank God for all he has done, and after all that, voice our supplications (requests) – this sequence of topics is known as the ACTS model of prayer.

Although we saw God’s punishing side in Sodom and Gomorrah we also see his merciful side because Lot’s family was given the opportunity to escape - all they had to do was keep their heads forward. When God gives us an order we ought to follow it. Lot’s wife had trouble following a straight-forward rule. She resisted letting go of her old life or maybe she was morbidly curious to see what had happened. We don't know her reasoning, but the book records that Lot's wife had ignored what had been told to her, even though the same set of instructions had enabled her to narrowly escape destruction.

A lesson for us is that when we escape disaster it’s probably best if we don’t look back and regret what we lost, but look forward and give thanks for what we have gained. One way of expressing our gratitude is to share our blessings with others. The author of the letter to the Hebrews may have had the Genesis 18 story in mind when he said "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2 - New American Standard Bible)."

How do you imagine the scene where Abraham welcomes his three visitors? One interpretation can be observed in a drawing by Israeli Hasidic artist David Avisar, which you can see on the "Dwelling in the Word" blog by clicking the following link: "Abraham and the Three Visitors”

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Which attribute of God is the one you imagine more often: Merciful or punishing?
    2. What are some of your experiences of witnessing his mercy?
    3. In what situations have you observed his justice and punishment for the wicked?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to approach you humbly and follow your instructions exactly as you intended.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Cities under siege

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 21-23 (The LORD Provides)

    Comments and Questions
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